Is An Apartment Moratorium A Good Idea For Framingham?

FRAMINGHAM – In March 2020, 350-plus residents submitted a petition calling for a 9-month apartment moratorium in the City of Framingham.

Residents had told city leaders in 2017 and again in 2019, there were too many apartments in the City of Framingham. And many candidates for Mayor and the City Council in those years said they would support a short apartment moratorium to voters.

“While Framingham has recently permitted or constructed more than 1,000 new apartment units, it has not studied and has no plans to mitigate the impacts of these units of municipal services, schools and roadways,” wrote the petitioners to the City Council.

At that same time in March 2020, District 1 City Councilor Christine Long, the long-time Planning Board Chair submitted an order to the 11-member City Council calling for an apartment moratorium for up to one-year.

The coronavirus pandemic hit Framingham and basically almost everything shut down in the City, even construction projects slowed.

The City Council’s Planning & Zoning subcommittee reviewed a proposed moratorium.

On July 23, the City Council voted 10-1 to support a temporary moratorium in the City. During the moratorium, the Councilors want a study done on the effects of the apartments currently under construction, including but not limited to traffic and school enrollment.

Between March and the Council vote, City of Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer was silent on the issue.

Last Thursday, the Mayor did a Zoom call with members from the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce, who have taken a position against the moratorium, and said she is against the moratorium.

And on Wednesday, the Spicer administration issued a long statement on why the moratorium is bad for the City of Framingham.

The Council will vote again on the moratorium at its August 4 meeting.

If it passes again, the Mayor has 10 days to sign the moratorium or veto it.

A veto is very possible, but the Council can override any mayoral veto with 8 votes, or 2/3rd of the Council.

How Framingham Got to This Point?

While still a Town, Framingham Town Meeting approved $9.1 million in tax incentives for two developers to build 467 apartments in two developments within walking distance to the MBTA commuter rail station. Town government leaders argued that the $133 million investment was worth the tax breaks to the developers.

  • Wood Brothers constructed Alta Union House at 75 Concord Street with 197 units.
  • Mill Creek is constructing Moderna at 266 Waverley Street with 270 units.

After those were approved, two dilapidated shopping plaza – Mt Wayte Plaza and Nobscot Plaza – were proposed for redevelopment with limited retail and apartments.

The Framingham Planning Board approved Weston-based Baystone Development for 210 apartments, now called The Buckley, at the corner of Mt. Wayte Avenue and Franklin Street, with a still-to-be-named restaurant.

The Planning Board approved Centercorp Retail Properties for 152 housing units, with some retail in Nobscot.

The 5-member Planning Board also approved 75-apartment units across the Framingham City Hall at Union Avenue and Proctor Street.

The Planning Board also approved 258 apartment units at the former Bancroft Building, after the town evicted all the artists.

“Since 2016, 1,419 units have been permitted in the City of Framingham with the concentration of 876 new units in the Central Business District,” said Former Planning Board Chair Long, and the District 1 City Councilor.

Those units also including developing the former Marist property on Pleasant Street and the former Millwood Golf Couse now housing units.

Those new apartments, although many have yet to be rented, and some yet to be constructed, have already impacted traffic heavily on South Framingham, including Dudley Road, Mt. Wayte, Franklin Street, Union Avenue, Route 126 and Route 135 in downtown Framingham.

“Traffic is the #1 issue that the City faces throughout Framingham and needs to be addressed,” wrote Councilor Long in her proposal.

And those apartments have had an impact on the Framingham Public Schools, which is bursting with more than 9,000 students.

District 4 School Committee member Adam Freudberg, said today, July 30, there are 175 students now in apartments in the district. And students projected for the 1,400 permitted apartments could be as high as 210.

At $19,544 per student cost that is $4.42 million now and a project $4.1 million addition to the district for a total impact of more than $7.5 million.

Legislative vs Executive Branch on the Moratorium

Last week, before the Council took its first vote on the moratorium, District 4 City Council Michael Cannon asked the chair if Mayor Yvonne Spicer or her administration had submitted a statement either way on the moratorium. Council Chair George P. King Jr. said no.

The Mayor did not participate in the the July 23rd meeting on Zoom.

The Council voted 10-1 in favor of the moratorium, with the Chair the lone opposition.

Two days later on Thursday, Mayor Spicer appeared on a Zoom call with the CEO of the MetroWest Chamber and several other chamber members, along with newly-hired City Planning & Community Development Director Kevin Shea. (He started on Dec. 23, 2019).

“I want to push this initiative with the City Councilors – quite frankly there are 11 of them and that format they are meeting in now is not always conducive to effective discussion and engagement but I also feel there are some agenda’s working overtime,” said Spicer to the Chamber on Zoom, that same platform the City Council has been using since March, due to the pandemic.

Long in submitting her proposal in March asked the “Council to accept my motion for a ‘time out’ to allow the City to study this pressing issue, discuss it in public meetings as a community, collect necessary data and information by appropriating funding for a consultant with expertise in planning and economic development to be able to identify potential policies that the Council is able to adopt to
appropriately regulate future development.”

The Mayor told Chamber members she “eloquently” wanted to “talk about why this is such a bad idea.”

“I’m not even quite sure where the thinking of the City Council is on this too,” said the Mayor to Chamber members, including representatives from Sanofi, Bose, Bowditch & Dewey, and Consigli construction.

“I’m deeply concerned about the impact of this,” said the Mayor. “I’m going to work as much as I can to try to encourage not to continue in this vein. At the end of the day economic development is driven by housing and people’s ability to work and live in a community.
I think it is premature to even think that we need to put a moratorium in place. I look at this as an opportunity for us – you are all part of the Metrowest Chamber of Commerce – you are all the economic drivers in any community and I appreciate the partnership we have.”

“This is going to hurt us more than” help us,” said the Mayor to the Chamber members. “We -all on this call – see the value of having new housing.”

The Mayor said the proposed 9-month housing moratorium was “putting a chokehold on any type of growth in the city of Framingham and I’m deeply concerned.”

Mayor Spicer then said this was “all driven by a citizen’s petition,” but she had forgotten that former chair of the Planning Board Long, now a City Councilor, was also driving this measure through the legislative branch.

“This is driven by a small minority of people,” reiterated the Mayor to the Chamber members.

City Councilors were surprised to learn that the Mayor had an opinion on the moratorium on Thursday, when she did not express any opinion to the 11-member elected City Council before its vote on July 23.

“I had the impression the Mayor opposed it from my conversations with her but I was not certain,” said Councilor George King, who also opposed the moratorium.

“I encouraged her to publicly take a position since it is such an important topic.  I am unsure why she chose to do it with the Chamber of Commerce, as opposed to the City Council, who was the body making the decision,” said King, the Chair of the Council.

“Much like the marijuana discussion, the Mayor had the opportunity to lead the dialogue on a temporary apartment moratorium. Similarly, the Mayor chose not to participate in this collaborative process at all. I wish she would get involved and begin to play an active role in these important matters that impact our community,” said District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon, who oversees the council’s economic development subcommittee.

“The complete lack of any coherent economic development plan by the Spicer Administration makes necessary this temporary pause to ensure the success of the overall goal of growing our local economy,” said At-Large City Councilor Janet Leombruno. “I stand prepared to work with leaders in the business community to achieve this goal.”

“Whether we agree or disagree, I think the Mayor should make her position known in the proper forum on critical issues,  Too often we seem to be guessing where she stands,” said At-Large City Councilor King.

Five days after speaking to the Chamber members, Mayor Spicer issued a public statement on the moratorium.

“Framingham is a community that welcomes a diverse business base from retail to life sciences to restaurants and as well as a global population. Each year, we graduate more than 800 students from Framingham State University and Mass Bay Community College. Our diverse workforce and opportunities for professional entrée for young professionals are critical. Creating an environment where they can live, work, and play in our community only serves us collectively,’ said the Mayor.

“A limit to the production of multifamily housing also harms vulnerable populations such as low-to-moderate-income families and individuals, older adults, and those with disabilities. The data has shown that black and brown residents are most affected by housing injustice, as well as the public health crises of the pandemic and racial injustice. If we want the City to grow economically with the opening of new businesses, we need more people to call Framingham home. We need people to drive Framingham’s economic engine,” wrote the Mayor in the press release statement.

Two days after the City Council voted, the 5-member Planning Board also voted on the moratorium measure.

The vote was 4-1 against the moratorium, with member Shannon Fitzpatrick the lone vote in favor.

The Framingham EDIC, appointed by the mayor, is also against the moratorium.

“The moratorium is likely to be interpreted outside of Framingham as an indication that the City is ‘no longer open for business.’ It will call into question the City’s commitment to the vision of a downtown revitalization built around attracting new residents and businesses through support for Transit Oriented Development and discourage creative mixed-use development proposals,” wrote the EDIC in a letter.

Framingham in the 1970s, after numerous apartments were constructed along Route 9, imposed an apartment moratorium.

Over the years, Framingham has had a reputation as a community that is difficult to do business with, but as Long pointed out more than 1,400 apartments had been permitted in the City since 2016.

If the Council approves a moratorium, and withstands a mayoral veto, the next step would be a study.

The City would contract professional consulting services possessing expertise in complex land use planning and development experience. Once a consulting firm has been identified, the moratorium analysis would be compiled as part of a public engagement process that includes community forums to solicit input on possible policy recommendations, strategies and tools. This would essentially be the second phase of the Economic Development Study with a focus on new apartments. This study would need to be comprehensive and would have to include development and demographic trends, impacts on essential services, i.e. police
and public safety, fire, schools, public works, parks & recreational facilities, emergency services, natural resources and possible loss thereof, neighborhood characteristics, infrastructure, and most of all the ever increasing, ongoing issue with traffic, as a consequence of new development.

The City could consider during the 9 months, if it wants or needs more apartments, needs more affordable housing, needs more workforce housing, more transit-oriented housing, more condos, or something else, or nothing at all, in its study.

Marlborough’s 6-Month Moratorium

This is exactly what the City of Marlborough did in March of 2017, under request of its Mayor Arthur Vigeant.

He proposed, and the City Council, the legislative branch of Marlborough, agreed to a 6-month moratorium on special permits for multi-unit housing. The City Council & the Mayor were concerned than since 2010 almost 1,000 housing units had been permitted.

The Mayor’s goal was to create a plan that would catalog existing housing, gauge demand for housing in the City, including types, and understand home new housing impacts city services, like schools, public safety, traffic, and water & sewer.

The Marlborough Economic Development Corporation contracted with a RKG Associates, Inc., to conduct the study. (RKG is who Councilor Long has proposed the City of Framingham use.)

The study recommended adding mixed-use developments downtown to match the 4-story scale of the historic building, It also suggested adding apartments and amenities in the office parks, replacing parking lot landscapes, with new neighborhoods.

Staples had proposed something similar in Framingham, and it was rejected.

SOURCE

But also during the moratorium, the City of Marlborough worked with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to draft housing guidelines and goals for the City.

Marlborough was divided into sections. In established neighborhoods, townhouses were suggested as the preferred housing option. In commercial neighborhoods, townhouses would again be fine, but so would multi-unit buildings. In the industrial & commercial parks in the City, it was proposed small and large multi-unit buildings, along with courtyard-style apartment complexes.

A point-based system was created to help determine if a proposed housing project fit the City’s needs and criteria.

“People [are] standing at the door waiting to do projects,” Mayor Arthur Vigeant told the Boston Globe after the 6-month moratorium.

He told the newspaper as many as 3,000 new units, could move forward and there were as many as 20 developers interested in the City of Marlborough,

The moratorium did not have an anti-business effect on the City of almost 40,000. Framingham is more than 70,000.

Since that moratorium, the Apex Center has opened in Marlborough, a condo development has been approved, the City Council greenlighted 123 apartment off Route 495 in a second Avalon development, and more.

What next for Framingham?

On Tuesday, August 4, the City Council will take a required second vote on the proposed 9-month moratorium.’

Residents can speak during public comment at the beginning of the meeting or they can email their City Councilor or the entire Council a statement.

SOURCE created a poll on Facebook about the moratorium. Feel free to cast your vote.

Watch the mayor speak to the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce members by clicking here.


editor

email: editor@FraminghamSource.com call or text at 508-315-7176

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